Many moments quickly fade. Then there are those experiences that are far too incredible and life changing to forget. They’re forever etched on your memory. My week spent on the Big Five Safari in Manitoba was one such experience filled with many magical moments.
The polar bear was spotted right at the edge of the rocks, staring attentively at the halted whale watching boat as a dozen or so sightseers stared back in utter amazement – cameras frantically zooming in and clicking away to capture the moment. Besides feeling completely awestruck, I remember thinking how strange it seemed to see a polar bear surrounded by earthy tones. Not the blanket of snow and ice they’re stereotypically associated with. The scene felt juxtaposed.
That’s the thing about Churchill. While the high season begins around October, polar bear sightings are still possible during the summer when ice melts away to reveal a lush carpet of color on the tundra brimming with life. Mild daytime temperatures let you truly explore and appreciate the unique landscape. But there’s an extra special reason to visit Churchill at this time of year – beluga whales.
In fact, as we were on the boat enjoying the surprise polar bear sighting, we had just been surrounded by countless numbers of these wondrous whitish whales, along with their grey calves. They appeared to be everywhere, playfully popping up long enough for us to see their permanently smiling dolphin-like faces.
Thousands of these endearing whales venture to the warmer waters of the Churchill River every July and August to give birth. There’s something special about belugas and this trip allowed me to not only see and hear them, but actually become immersed in their natural environment.
We met them again on a kayaking trip later that day. The beluga whales were playful and curious, coming so close to the kayaks that I could clearly make out the distinct markings on their skin and gentle facial expressions.
While the water was serene and silvery, the sky looked stormy and about to burst. It soon began to rain and the day quickly darkened, but this gave an already amazing experience a surreal, atmospheric edge.
I’ll never forget listening to the whistling and exhaling sounds of the beluga whales all around me. It sounded like an old steam train churning along with rhythmic motion. As we paddled back to shore, I knew this would be yet another magical moment on this summer arctic adventure that I’d never, ever forget.
Written by Alison Sandilands.
Image: ©Zhang Yongpeng
Learn more about Frontiers North's Big Five Safari.
*Since this was written, snorkelling with Beluga whales is not available as an option.